Friday, January 16, 2009

Monkey cigars



Several Catalpas grow here. They're a native tree, but these were planted by previous owners, to attract the catalpa worms that are such good fish bait.



One of its country names is Monkey Cigar Tree. Ever since I learned that, the long pods always bring to mind those old smoking monkey toys.



Inside the pods are several seeds, all fringed on the ends.



Looks like twins. (They all do.)

I posted about Catalpas, aka Catabas or Catawbas, and their worms before. They grow naturally by streams, so they don't mind getting their feet wet - the trees in the flood photo last week (on the right) were catalpas.

I thought I'd read that repeated defoliation by the worms didn't harm the trees. Usually, not every tree is defoliated every year. But one that seemed the worms' favorite is now dead. Could just be coincidence though; I don't know how to perform tree autopsies.



The spring we first moved here, I found a hornworm on the porch, and mistook it for a catalpa worm. Oh, so gently did I carry him over to a branch, thinking I was helping him find his true home. I want to slap my head now, remembering that piece of idiocy! It's ok though — confusion to our enemies, and all that.

I wondered if people actually ever lit up the pods, which don't seem very smokable to me. No firm evidence, but I thought it was hilarious that the search turned up an article by my blog friend Ron as the top item. Small world!

14 comments:

threecollie said...

I have been trying to grow a catalpa from seeds I pick up in the pediatrician's yard, but no luck. They are kind of neat.

Floridacracker said...

Now I know how to confuse a hornworm.
I feel ready for tomato season now.

Pablo said...

I remember your earlier post. I think catalpas are native to Missouri, but I've not found one in my woods. I've found some likely leaves though, so maybe . . .

Rurality said...

3C, I haven't tried them from seed, but maybe I should... once source I was reading said they like a lot of moisture.

FC, well it's probably like, next week for you, right? ;)

Pablo, I read that they don't flower for about 7 years, so it's possible yours are just still young.

Pamela said...

Our neighbors chopped their catalpa down because it dirtied their swimming pool. I miss it.

Pablo said...

But why would mine be young? Even the emergent part of the forest is at least 30 years old, so if a catalpa had happened to seed itself there, it ought to be blooming by now. No, I think I merely don't have any. Yet.

Tamar Orvell said...

You make science, botany, nature, flora, and flora fascinating, accessible, wondrous. The dull dry texts, teachers, museum signage conspired to all-but-kill my attention, interest, concern. Several callings beckon you. Yet maybe here is your best teaching forum.

Signed, a grateful failed science student all the formal schooling years (and even now, in major science museums!;-(

Rurality said...

Pamela, they are nice compact trees but I guess you wouldn't want all those pods in your pool...

Pablo, maybe a seed blew in from somewhere else...? Or maybe they don't get enough sun... or maybe you just don't have any. :)

Thanks Tamar! I was almost out of high school before I had a science teacher I really liked. Wish I'd had him sooner.

Dave said...

We have lots of catalpas here, all descendents from one ancient planted tree, but I never heard about the worms or the nickname. Cool. (You'll be submitting this to the Festival fo the Trees, i hope?)

countrypeapie said...

I once helped deliver for UPS over the Thanksgiving/Christmas holidays. My driver, Randy, told me he used to smoke the pod cigar thingies (our route was over in Pea Ridge, AL -- country roads). I can't really vouch for his honesty; he told me a lot of nutty stuff. But you never know.

Rurality said...

Dave, ok, will do!

CPP, that they are *shaped* like cigars is the only thing that makes me think somebody might try... the pods are hard; not flexible at all. Seems as though it'd be like trying to smoke a stick!

Anonymous said...

As a child we did try to smoke the monkey cigar. Not too successful!

Hank Hawkins said...

I just found one of these trees and if it wasn't for the owner remembering a story about people smoking these pods like cigars I don't think I would have known what these things really were.

Your article was the most interesting of anything else I found on the interwebs.

I have a pod drying out and will fire it up this winter some time. I'm sure it will taste like crap.

Anonymous said...

Actually, in St. Louis, the kids in my family used to dry them out to smoke. They will light up then. No effect that I remember other than trying to look "grown up" and later remembering the crazy stuff we did as kids.